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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bittergourd Sambar

Bittergourd Sambar

Sambar is a south Indian stew-like dish typically eaten with hot rice.

Sambar can be made with any seasonal vegetable, any combination of them, although my mom would probably dislike certain combination of vegetables - like ash gourd and bitter gourd together, or for that matter pearl onion and cranberries that I like to make on and off during Fall/Winter.

Sambar Powder is the spice mix that flavors this dish. And practically every south Indian family has its own version of the best sambar powder formula which is probably tweaked a bit down the generations. For instance, my mom's traditional sambar powder recipe is a bit different from mine and yet they use pretty much the same base ingredients.

easy recipe home made sambar powder

The sambar powder can be made ahead of time in a larger quantity and stored in air tight container much like any other spice powders. Typically, just a couple of tablespoons of the powder is all it takes to make a pot of sambar. Simply dry roast the ingredients till aromatic, allow to cool a bit, grind to smooth powder, and store.

Indian bitter gourd or Chinese Foo Gwa have a distinct bitterness that can be an acquired taste, but has well-documented health benefits. Thanks to my mom making bittergourd sambar and pachadi and deep-fried and pan-fried poduthuval when I was little, I ended up liking it a lot when I "grew up", despite turning up my nose on it then.

Tempering is an integral part of many south Indian dishes, my mother wouldn't dream of serving sambar without it, but, can be omitted here if preferred. Certain dishes start with the tempering first and get layered flavors built as the dish progresses, whereas certain dishes have the tempering as garnish added right at the end when the dish is ready to be served. I prefer adding tempering at the end for sambar, but start off with tempering for poduthuvals and curries.


Sambar Powder spices (this is a slightly non-traditional mix):
1 cup coriander seeds
½ cup dry red chilies(up to 1 cup if preferred fiery and red)
½ cup chana dal
¾ cup toor dal
½ cup fenugreek seeds
2 Tbsp whole black pepper
2 2" piece of chinese/indian cinnamon bark
2-4 dry bay leaves
1 tsp poppy seeds
½ cup dry roasted curry leaves (optional)

For the Sambar:
1 tsp tamarind concentrate (I like Tamicon™ is rich, thick and dark)
6 cups of water
1 large bitter melon, chopped (I like Foo Gwa from Asian stores)
1 large carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 to 3 Tbsp Sambar powder
1 Tbsp brown sugar
salt to taste
1 cup cooked mashed toor dal
Cilantro leaves for garnish

Tempering: 1 Tbsp oil, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp urad dal, 3 or 4 fresh curry leaves

  1. Tempering: Heat oil in a small pan, add urad dal and allow it to turn a mild golden brown, add the mustard seeds and let them pop; cover with a perforated lid if preferred as the mustard seeds will spatter all over when they pop; add the fresh curry leaves, remove from heat and keep aside
  2. Combine the sambar ingredients, all except cooked toor dal, cover and simmer till vegetables are cooked but not mushy; stir in the cooked mashed toor dal, adjust salt to taste and simmer for about 5 minutes more over medium low heat
  3. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and the tempering

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  • At 3:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bittergourd Sambhar, a healthy south Indian dish for diabetic patients.

  • At 7:09 AM, Blogger Kay said…

    I'm still trying to love bitter gourd, Sheela! :) How many foods that I hated in childhood have been moved to I-love-it list. Bittergourd still hasn't made the list yet.

    How did your garden do this year? I love reading about your garden.


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